Let me rephrase that- it’s PAST time for Apple to revamp their arcane preorder system. Apple asking people to wake up between midnight and 3 AM (depending on where they live) and fight their way into the queue to get the latest gear within a month or two of launch has just gotten more and more ridiculous as time has gone by. When the iPhone went on sale over ten years ago, people went and camped out and stood in long lines at Apple Stores, carrier locations, and other retailers to get their hands on one early. However, Apple gradually did away with the mass lineups using the preorder process. Now we have ample evidence that this system, at least as it is currently implemented, has also reached its logical limits.
If you are a regular reader, you might be ready to call be a hypocrite right now, since I wrote a piece about getting up early to preorder the Apple Watch 3 a few weeks ago. Well, my exuberance in that article was actually meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek. I don’t get up early to preorder Apple gear because I want to. I do it because it is the only way to get most new Apple products within the first month. If you are trying to write reviews while people are interested in reading them, you have to get the devices as early as possible. In the case of the Apple Watch 3, I was right to get up early, as all of the LTE models were sold out before the end of the first day of preorders.
My point is that we shouldn’t HAVE to do this anymore. I understand that Apple can only produce so many devices at a time, and that just is what it is. I don’t expect changes there. What Apple needs to do is figure out how to satisfy demand in such a way that they do not punish consumers, especially the hardcore fans and writers who are a large part of the early preorder crowd, and also don’t give any advantage to hoarders and scalpers.
Look no further than Apple’s response to the crazy levels of demand to register for WWDC for a solution to this problem. They were having exactly the same kinds of problems with even less supply to satisfy developers who needed the help available in these courses. Rather than continuing to make everyone jump on the web and try to get in the moment that registration opened, Apple now uses a lottery system to select participants. Potential enrollees can sign up for the opportunity to be chosen in the lottery without having to wake up at odd hours, jump through any hoops, or even worse, pay scalper prices to get a seat if they miss out on registration.
A similar system could be implemented to end the insanity of getting up in the early AM to get your preorder in. Apple could allow potential buyers to register for a lottery and enter their payment information starting right at the end of the device announcement (usually on a Tuesday) and ending that Friday at Midnight Pacific, when preorders typically begin now. Apple could then use software to sort the potential buyers into groups, each of which would have a general target time for processing and shipment depending on the model, storage size, and color option the customer chooses. Such a system could also be set up to allow customers to select alternate configuration choices if their first selection wont be available within a particular period of time.
Introducing a lottery preorder system would also allow Apple to reward both developers and loyal customers, and also to incentivize users to take a closer look at the company’s iPhone Upgrade Plan. It wouldn’t be difficult at all to give longtime users a small amount of extra weight in the lottery drawings. The vast majority of iOS users will have iCloud accounts, which gives Apple the ability to look at how many devices they own and along with purchase records, get a pretty good idea of how long they have been iOS users. By adding additional weight to both users with Apple Upgrade Plans and users and programmers who have paid Apple Developer Accounts, Apple can introduce a fair system that doesn’t force users to jump through hoops, but simultaneously rewards their biggest and most loyal supporters to some degree.
Even without weighting to reward certain groups, a lottery drawing is still a better system than what we have right now. The rumors of extremely limited supplies of the iPhone X just underline the fact that there is sometimes little to no reward to waking up at odd hours to get your preorder in early. If supplies are as short as we are being told right now, then most of us are going to be very disappointed when we still end up with a processing and delivery time that is a month or more out for our trouble.
For any who feel like a lottery drawing will actually be less fair than the current system, there is one thing to remember. Going directly to Apple may be the most recognized way to preorder iOS devices, but there are still plenty of other routes to take. Anyone who doesn’t want to take part in a lottery could still do things the old way by queuing up to preorder from their cell carriers or from major brick and mortar or online retailers. No matter what Apple does, consumers will still have a choice of how to go about preordering their devices the way that they want to.
Sure, in a world full of problems, this issue is of little real consequence. However, despite its relative unimportance, I bring it up as we close in on iPhone X preorders because it is easily remedied. Apple outgrew the lines on iPhone and iPad launch day several years ago, and now they have completely outgrown their existing preorder system. They have proven that they can adapt before. It’s time to do it again. It’s a company’s job to serve its customers, and Apple usually does a very good job of this. A lottery system for preorders will serve us much better than what we will be doing soon to fight over the short supply of iPhone Xs.
What do you think of Apple’s current preorder system? Have you gotten up early to get your order in before, or do you just wait it out until the latest device is more widely available? Do you think a lottery system like the one Apple uses for WWDC would be a better way to handle preorders going forward? Let me know in the Comments section below, on Flipboard, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.